How to Choose & Install Hardwood Floors: A Complete Guide
The choice of flooring is one of the most basic yet important decisions a homeowner has to make when undertaking a renovation, as it underpins everything else. While there are plenty of different options, from carpet to terrazzo, one material is the acknowledged standard: hardwood.
But not all hardwood flooring is created equal, and selecting a product isn’t simply a matter of choosing a preferred color. A range of other factors can have an impact on both aesthetics and performance
To explore the many options available, we spoke with three experts: Scott Jones, director of product management at Carlisle Wide Plank Floors; James Caroll, principal of LV Wood; and Mara Miller, partner at the AD100 firm Carrier and Company Interiors. Once you find the perfect fit for your space, you’ll need to think about installation. While may choose to hire a professional to install their floors, some intrepid homeowners go the DIY route. If you’re ready to tackle the project yourself, Tony Pastrana, installation systems developer at Armstrong Flooring, shared his advice on how to install your own flooring.
Select Solid or Engineered Flooring
Traditionally, hardwood flooring came in thick planks of solid timber. Today, solid hardwood is still widely available, but many companies also offer engineered flooring—planks made with a thinner top layer of hardwood, bonded to other layers designed to prevent the floor from shifting during expansion and contraction cycles. “All wood moves in three directions: There’s tangential, radial, and longitudinal movement,” says Jones. “With engineered products, you’re creating opposing forces within the board to try to restrict the natural movement of the wood.”
Choose Prefinished or Site Finish
Hardwood planks can be purchased with a raw face that gets finished by a professional after installation, or prefinished, which arrives with the stain and topcoat already applied. The advantage of prefinished wood is that “you know exactly what you’re getting,” says Caroll, noting that once you select a product, you’ll have an exact sample to use in coordinating your home’s color palette and choosing other design elements, such as textiles, wall coverings, and cabinetry. Prefinished flooring also takes less time to install, because there’s no need to apply color or sealant. “When you choose to do a site finish,” he adds, “you’re rolling the dice a little bit, and relying on the skills of the flooring contractor to get it right.”
Choosing Hardwood Flooring
Board Widths. Select from narrow strips (less than three inches), wider planks (more than three inches), parquet squares, and—a new option—squares and rectangles. The traditional choice, strips give the illusion of more space, while planks impart a rustic look. Parquet floors, with the distinctive geometric design, suit formal spaces.
Wood Species. Hardwood species vary in durability, grain patterns, and color. Oak, maple, and cherry are among the most common species due to their hardness. Exotic woods like mahogany, and Brazilian cherry aren’t as durable, but are prized for their striking appearance
Colors. Hardwoods run the gamut from blond to black, depending on species and finish.
Textures. You can get hardwood floors that look shiny and new, or you can buy brand new wood that looks like an antique and adds timeworn character to your room Many manufacturers offer distressed and hand-scraped hardwoods that will disguise heavy use over the years and give the floor an appealing timeworn appearance from the moment it’s installed.
Hardness. For busy households with pets and kids, it’s a good idea to choose the hardest wood species possible. Hard species, such as red oak, will withstand wear and tear, while softer species, such as pine, tend to show scratches. The choice between engineered and solid hardwood will most likely be determined by location, subfloor, and preferred installation method. But if you’re on the fence, keep in mind choosing solid hardwood means scratches from a puppy’s claws or dings from a toddler’s toy can be sanded out and refinished over and over. Whichever you choose, preventive care and proper maintenance can keep your floors looking good for years.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Wood Floor
With the variety of woods, colors and finishes available today, shopping for a wood floor can be a bit overwhelming. Here are five things to know and consider when choosing the perfect wood floor for your home.
Homeowners evaluating new flooring owe it to themselves to consider the benefits and beauty of wood. Wood floors are comfortable, durable and surprisingly affordable, and nothing quite compares to the character and warmth they bring to every room in the house. While there is a myriad of choices available, not every type of wood flooring is suitable for every application. If you are shopping for a wood floor, here are five things to keep in mind.
Type of Wood Flooring
There are primarily two types of wood flooring products—solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid wood flooring is milled from solid wood logs and is joined with a traditional tongue and groove along both the long and short edges. Solid wood is available prefinished or unfinished, in strips and planks ranging in thickness from 5/16 to ¾ inches. Strips are 1½-inch- to 2¼-inches-wide and planks are 3 to 8 inches wide.
Choice of Wood Species
There are many different types of woods used in flooring, but some are harder and therefore more durable than others. “Day to day wear and tear is what concerns most people when shopping for a wood floor,” says Schlegel, “and the benchmark for hardness in the U.S. is Red Oak.” While Red and White Oak are the most common domestic wood floors, Hickory and Maple (harder than oak) and Walnut (softer) are also popular choices. Top-selling exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry, Brazilian Koa, and Cumaru are among the hardest species available. “Naturally, the harder the wood, the better it will be for wear and installation in high-traffic areas of the home,” Schlegel notes.
Grain, Color, and Appearance
Because wood flooring comes in so many different species, styles, and finishes, it is fairly easy to select a floor to match any room décor. If you have a country-style interior, wide plank floors with highly defined wood grains and a distressed appearance will be a good fit. For Colonial homes, consider wide, random plank width flooring in Oak and Maple. For traditional interiors, hardwood flooring in widths of 2¼ to 3¼ inches in Oak, Maple, or Walnut, or parquet flooring, will be smart choices. Virtually any type of wood can be used in a contemporary setting, depending on what stain or finish is used—for example, pewter, dark charcoal, or whitewash finishes can transform any wood species into a modern masterpiece.
How to choose the best wood flooring
Looking to update your flooring and don’t know where to start? Wood flooring should be your first port of call. Why? Wood flooring creates a great backdrop to any contemporary interior, while functioning as a key aspect of a period home’s historic character.
WHICH WOOD COLOUR IS BEST FOR YOUR ROOM?
One of the many advantages of a timber floor is that the look of natural wood works well with many decorating styles, allowing versatility when you redecorate. But the wood flooring’s colour choice should be based on more factors that just your decorative scheme.
White and pale grey wood floors are perfect for low-traffic rooms, and their light colour will enhance space in a small room brilliantly. Contemporary and light-reflecting, they will however show up dirt and dents pretty quickly.
Warm, honey-toned wood floors will disguise dirt and create a welcoming feel, ideal for a large, open-plan space that you want to feel cosier. Less contemporary than paler wood floor finishes, mid-toned wood is perfect for creating a relaxed, more traditional finish.
Dark wood floors will create a more formal, intimate feel in a room, but can also be used in industrial-style spaces for a smart, contemporary finish, especially if used as a backdrop to show off light-coloured furniture.
Your Guide to the Different Types of Wood Flooring
If you’re thinking of putting in wood floors, you can’t go wrong. All types of hardwood floors have unmatched natural beauty and go with any decor — modern, traditional, country, you name it. Hardwood flooring goes in any room, although kitchens and basements warrant special considerations.
Unfinished or Finished?
Unfinished hardwood flooring is a good option if you want a custom stain applied before the final finish, or if you want to match the color of existing flooring. After hardwood flooring installation and staining, the flooring is given several coats of protective finish. If you’re thinking of adding hardwood flooring in your kitchen, unfinished flooring is a good choice because the finish will penetrate and seal the seams between boards, helping to prevent water from seeping between boards
Solid or Engineered?
Solid hardwood flooring is all wood and comes 5/8 to 3/4 inches thick. Because it’s solid wood, it can be sanded and refinished many times. However, it’s susceptible to changes in humidity, and isn’t recommended for below-grade basements
What Species Is Best?
The best hardwood floors are made with wood species that are readily available and — you guessed it — very hard. Oak flooring, maple flooring and cherry flooring are all good choices. Other species include bamboo (which is actually a grass), walnut, ash and mahogany. You’ll pay a premium price for more exotic species, such as teak, jarrah and mesquite. Check to make sure the hardwood flooring you choose comes from sustainably harvested forests.
Another option is reclaimed hardwood flooring, which you can find at salvage yards. It likely has some signs of wear and age, but you’ll pay about half what it would cost for comparable new flooring. If they don’t have what you’re looking for (and you have the time), ask to be put on a waiting list. Salvage flooring is an especially good choice if you’re renovating an older house.